SPC Stats

Path length: 50.9 miles

Width:  100 yards

Fatalities:  3

Injuries:  137

Rating:  F4

County:  Gibson, Carroll, Benton, Humphreys

Looking at an F4 in Tennessee in this summary.  May 7, 1971:  An F4 traveled 50 miles through parts of Gibson, Carroll, Benton and Humphreys Counties. The max width was 100 yards.  There were 137 injuries and 3 fatalities reported.  The tornado left an almost continuous path of destruction through Huntingdon and Buena Vista in Carroll County to Eagle Creek in Benton County.

Details from the Storm Data Publication: 

Tornado first touched ground three miles east of Bradford in Gibson County where it destroyed an unoccupied mobile trailer.  From this point the tornado left an almost continuous path of destruction through Huntingdon and Buena Vista in Carroll County to Eagle Creek in Benton County. At times, only tree top damage was evident of wind damage.

After crossing the Tennessee River, the tornado cut a path through timber land just north of Cuba Landing in Humphreys County.  The length of the path from the initial touchdown of the tornado to Eagle Creek is approximately 44 miles.  Including the path in the vicinity of Cuba Landing would give a total path of 50 miles.

At 5:26pm, golfball size hail covers the ground int he Kenton-Greenfield area about 15 miles northwest of Bradford.  49 houses were destroyed in the storms’ path, and major damage was inflicted to the National Guard Armory and the Hale Elementary School in Huntingdon, and to the Post Office and a church in Buena Vista.  

Compiled by the Office of Civil Defense, property damage estimates were $10,000 in Gibson County, $175,000 (including $150,000 timber loss) in Benton County, and $5,500,000 in Carroll County.  Crop damage was estimated at $50,000.  No estimate of loss of property and crops was available from Humphreys County.  The tornado moved from west-northwest to east-southeast at 35 to 45 mph.

Additional Information from Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes:

  • Moved ESE from “Wingo” to 10 miles WNW of Huntingdon, and to 3 miles east of Bradford. 
  • At least 31 homes and 15 businesses were destroyed.
  • About 179 homes were damaged and about 55 barns were damaged or destroyed.
  • Two people were killed at Huntingdon and one at Buena Vista; all were elderly.

Tornado Path

Click Map To Enlarge

SPC coordinates:  Start: 36.07 / -88.78   End:  35.88 / -87.90      

Note:  Exact tornado path may not be straight and/or continuous.

Chase Story Found in the Storm Track Archives

From: KD4SVA ([email protected]):
Subject: West Tenn Tornado Stories-1 

By Keith Akins.
Tuesday May 7, 1971; My dad had just arrived home from work preparing to
mow the yard when he noticed kind of a strange dark cloud smooth in
appearance underneath with no sign of a storm tower building above. Only
blue sky could be seen directly above it. It was hot and extremely humid
while not a single breeze could be felt. My dad asked me if I would go
to town with him to get some gas for the mower. When we got back I went
inside so I didn't see what Dad saw. The cloud seemes to grow darker and
thicker underneath but still no thunderhead had bloomed above. It seemed
to be in a pancake formation with no sign of anything, thunder or
lightning or none of that. Suddenly two black ridges (BLACK AS ASPHALT)
broke out from the two furtherest corners of that cloud and met at a
point almost at the very edge of the bank where a cotton white "V"
shaped drinking cup appeared and stood perfectly still. From all
directions the puffiest prettiest cotton white clouds seemed to form all
over the clear blue sky over head and began to streak rapidly toward the
funnel from all directions. The funnel suddenly ran a thin cork-screw to
the ground and then broke off. It ran another which too broke off. The
third stuck but the now tornado still stood perfectly still (here it
should be noted that no sign of any lowered cloud base could be seen as
the tornado stood well above the trees around our pond just down from
the storm cellar and it was 2-1/2 miles away). The tornado began to move
slightly to the south as It began to pick up debris and form the debris
shroud. It took 2 minutes for the debris shroud to form, but when it did
the throttle went wide open heading south toward Trezevant TN. After
crossing Hy 79 between Trezevant and Wingo, it suddenly stopped as if the
brakes were slammed. A neighbor of mine right across from the field
stopped in said that the thing appeared to be tailspinning whipping
around violently. It finnaly slungshot toward Big Buck community. {Here
it should be noted that there was still no sign of any thunder head
(Storm Tower) or lowered cloud base. Everything seemed to be in reverse)

When the tornado approached Big Buck two more formed one on each side of
the first one and met right at a mobile home obliterating it and ripping
water and sewage pipes right out of the ground. The tornado then set
sights on Huntingdon TN where fruit jars were thrown through brick walls
without scarring the glass, a sheet of notebook paper was torpedoed
through a pane glass window without cracking the glass, and a 15ft
section of rail off of the railroad was pulled loose out of a crossing
and coiled back like a cork-screw. This tornado was already through
Huntingdon when like an atom bomb a cumulus mushroom formed rapidly.
This tornado lifted after passing Buna-Vista community and stayed in the
air all the way to Nashville where mail from mailboxes in Huntingdon
were rained down on Nashville residents.

I've heard of this type of formation called a black widow but nobody
seems to have ever heard the term.

I'll have to write you about the 1984 tornado later. My back's killing
me!!!!!

Newspaper Clippings

Discrepancies:

We gathered information for this event from the SPC & NCDC Databases, the May 1971 Storm Data Publication and Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes and found the following differences:

Path length:

  • Only a small difference here.  Grazulis & Storm Data have 50 mile path while SPC and NCDC have 50.9 mile path.

Counties:

  • NCDC doesn’t have Humphreys County.  The end the path in Benton County.
  • All other sources list all 4 counties in the path.

      Sources:

      The Storm Prediction Center

      NCDC Storm Events Database

      May 1971 Storm Data Publication

      StormTrack Chase Story

      newspapers.com

      Grazulis, Thomas P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. Page 1123.

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